Programs for teens lose funds

Programs geared toward teenage parents and sexual education have been cut from local and state budgets in spite of the increasing number of teen pregnancies in the state, local health professionals say.

The East Central Health District cut seven programs and several staff members after a statewide budget cut in family planning funding in October, said Mary Stacy, youth development coordinator for the health department.

The Georgia Department of Human Resources proposed cutting $7.5 million for 2009 and $10 million from the 2010 budget.

The cuts will lead to more teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, said Mary Pierucci, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood.

"The school system teaches abstinence, but these teens need more," she said. "There's no one to meet the community's needs. Churches and parents are looking for abstinence-plus programs, and they're just not there."

Georgia ranked 10th nationally in teen pregnancies and second in repeat teen pregnancies in 2006, Ms. Stacy said about data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a 14-year decline, Georgia's teen pregnancy rate began to rise in 2005.

That year, there were 41.9 births for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. In 2006, that number rose to 51.2. Richmond County exceeded the state's teen birth rate in that age group at 71.2 per 1,000 women.

"A lot of improvement needs to be done," Ms. Stacy said.

Ms. Stacy said she continues to speak at middle schools, but her presentations are limited to abstinence education because of a state mandate.

"We know the healthiest choice is abstinence, but they don't all choose to do that," she said. "We know that 50 percent of our teenagers are participating in sexual activity."

Kristen Schlachter, 18, said her years participating in the health department's Teens Relating Information By Educating program benefited her.

"At school, all they said was 'you need to save it until marriage, "' she said. "TRIBE really informed me about teen pregnancies and STDs. Even if you don't wait, you need to be informed."

The Aiken Technical College freshman said the program also helped her communicate better with her parents about sex.

Ms. Stacy said she wants parents to provide their children with comprehensive sexual education.

"Sometimes parents don't know exactly what to say, but that doesn't mean we should be silent," she said. "Since we have less resources, we have to do more with what we have."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

TEEN PREGNANCIES

Number of births for teens ages 15 to 19 per 1,000 women (2006):

Richmond Co. 71.2

Columbia Co. 29.8

Burke Co. 85.2

McDuffie Co. 75.8

2006 TEEN PREGNANCY FACTS

- Georgia ranked 10th nationally for teen pregnancies.

- The state ranked second in repeat teen pregnancies.

- There were more than 21,000 teen mothers in Georgia.

- Georgia's teen birth rate was 54.2 percent higher than the national average.

Sources: Division of Public Health, Georgia Department of Human Resources, 2006, Center for Disease Control and Prevention